GreenLight Alliance: The Go-To Standard

22nd June 2021

After achieving Cradle to Cradle certification for its new Cascade Flex Vitality, Whitecroft Lighting break down the importance of seeking such accreditation when it comes to environmental and social responsibility.

Companies in every sector face growing pressure from stakeholders to demonstrate the environmental and social responsibility of their products, projects and services, not to mention validate those impacts with transparent, credible communication. The building industry is no different: the way building products are designed and made today has a very direct impact on the world we will all inhabit tomorrow. 

Choices made during the design and development stage are particularly influential: not only are these decisions difficult to undo in future – they also have a significant bearing on overall indoor environment and the ultimate circularity of the product, space, building or project. Materials choices, sources and approaches to assembly also have a bearing on people and systems.

What’s more, product designers, developers and manufacturers looking to optimise the safety, circularity and responsibility of their products also face a proliferation of single-attribute standards that can make it challenging to drive holistic change across systems and business models. Architects, interior designers, and facilities managers face a similar challenge in sourcing and selecting products and materials for their projects.

The Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard answers this question with a science-based one-standard solution that makes it easy to address interconnected environmental and social issues through an actionable framework for designing and making products. 

For well over a decade, Cradle to Cradle Certified has been the go-to standard for manufacturers, architects and specifiers committed to creating spaces and products today that enable a healthy, equitable, sustainable tomorrow.   

Rooted in the Cradle to Cradle design philosophy pioneered by architect William McDonough and chemist Dr. Michael Braungart, the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard is owned by the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute. Requirements for the third-party certification are developed through a multi-stakeholder process that encompasses public feedback as well as input and guidance from industry, subject matter experts and sustainability leaders from around the world. A fourth iteration of the standard was released earlier this year.

Differentiated by its comprehensive approach to the generation of safe and circular materials and products, the standard requirements are set forth across five critical performance categories: Material Health, Product Circularity, Clean Air & Climate Protection, Water & Soil Stewardship, and Social Fairness. The holistic scope of these requirements – and a bi-annual recertification system that encourages continuous improvement – make it both an immediately accessible and an aspirational standard for companies working to lead the way towards a future powered by products that enable greater human wellbeing and environmental health.

Whitecroft and Cradle to Cradle Certified

Whitecroft Lighting adopted the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard in 2020 for this reason. Several years of implementing low energy lighting solutions had already led us to explore and adopt the principles of the circular economy into our core design philosophy. As we moved to further embed circular design principles into our product development practices, we started to consider the wider environmental implications of our materials, assemblages and products from one lifecycle to the next. We also heard from many customers that independent verification of our products’ circular and sustainability attributes would help to meaningfully support their own ESG goals and CSR values. 

The design brief for Cascade Flex Vitality, our first Cradle to Cradle Certified product – and the first recessed luminaires to achieve certification under version 3.1 of the standard – included the following circular principles:

1. Design out waste & pollution (Cascade Flex Vitality uses 67% less plastic than a typical 600×600 flat panel).

2. Keep products and materials in use (Cascade Flex Vitality uses long-life, high-efficacy systems with LED flip-chip technology).

3. Regenerate natural systems (Modular design cartridge technology in the Cascade Flex Vitality allows for easy maintenance, future upgradability and flexibility). 

4. Achieve third-party verification of circularity and sustainability attributes.

The Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard provided an enabling framework for moving these principles into practice, with the additional benefit of encompassing social fairness as an equally important consideration in the design process.

Outcomes & Optimisations 

Overall, Cradle to Cradle Certified helped us clarify and expand our definition of a circular product, giving us a pathway for pushing beyond dematerialisation and recyclability to examine what it truly means to design and make a sustainable product today with tomorrow in mind.

Given the proliferation of 600x600mm products in the market, we saw an opportunity to demonstrate that circularity does not need to come with a high price point. With Cascade Flex Vitality, we have created an accessible, higher quality product option made with long-term performance and cyclability in mind – better enabling designers to consider circularity in the selection of lighting solutions at this level.

In a broad context, applying the Cradle to Cradle Certified Product Standard to the design and manufacture of the Cascade Flex Vitality 600x600mm luminaires highlighted for us the importance of decisions made at the material selection and design stage, and illuminated the wider social impact of what we manufacture, how we manufacture and our impact on our local community. 

Some of the key product optimisations the certification process helped us achieve include:

Material Reutilisation

First, we took a “whole product” approach to considering the material reutilisation capacity of the Cascade Flex Vitality. In alignment with our existing commitment to keeping products and materials in use, we used a modular design cartridge technology to allow for easy maintenance, future upgradability and flexibility, avoided the use of glue, and ensured the fixings were robust (no ‘snap fixings’). Then, we prioritised the use of materials that also have the capacity to be recycled or reused at a future point in time. The process of considering future use cycles for the materials and components of the Cascade Flex Vitality luminaire individually and in combination led us to start the process of developing ‘material passports’ for our products featuring both material and technical data designed to facilitate future cycling. 

Water Stewardship

While we have always been committed to responsibly managing our water consumption, the Cradle to Cradle certification journey shed new light on the potentially broad-reaching impacts of water consumption in the manufacturing process. As a result, our volume of water consumption, effluents, and – equally important to us – the social impact of access to clean water on our local community were fully considered during the product development and manufacturing process. On the heels of this, our UK manufacturing facility is in the process of introducing greater water monitoring technology, which will enable us to identify heavy water usage areas – data that we can use to enact further efficiency and process improvements in the near future.

Social Fairness 

Sustainable design is about more than environmental impact. It’s also about the impact of our products on people, too. The Cradle to Cradle certification gave us a language for addressing the human impacts of our products and processes. This included both the health and well-being impact of our products (which is directly linked to material health and the use of safe ingredient materials), as well as our company’s impact on our employees, customers, stakeholders and the community we call home. The certification process has both broadened and deepened our understanding of the interconnectivity between the products we make, the way we make them, our suppliers, and the people who make and use them. We are now working to create a social impact roadmap that will build on our already active engagement in employee health and wellbeing programmes, support for local environmental projects and charities, and our ongoing investment in education through apprenticeship schemes and graduate programmes with local colleges.

Key Takeaways

The process of achieving Cradle to Cradle certification has clarified and strengthened our definition of a circular product. We now understand how to integrate key environmental and social performance considerations into the product development pathway from design through to manufacturing and end of life. And, we have a better understanding of the questions we need to ask ourselves to get there. Achieving Bronze certification for our Cascade Flex Vitality product was a challenge (particularly in terms of Material Health) but that is also part of the journey: the standard is based upon continuous improvement, and outcomes from this first certification have already informed Whitecroft’s enterprise-wide strategy for circular, responsible products. On the basis of these insights and our expanded perspective, we have set the goal of launching three additional Cradle to Cradle Certified products in the coming year under the Whitecroft Vitality brand. These will include a downlight, continuous linear and suspended luminaires. The aim of this is to make significant improvements in some or all of the standard’s five performance categories.

Tim Bowes, Head of Lighting Application at Whitecroft Lighting, and Emma Williams, Head of Communications, Cradle to Cradle Product Innovations Institute